If you’re after wider, thicker deltoids, dumbbell lateral raises will only get you so far. Indeed, the real key is a dedication to pressing progressively heavier weight loads over your head. To that end, seated variations of the overhead press, done correctly, allow you to directly target your delts with growth-inducing poundages. Rob MacIntyre, CSCS, a strength-and-conditioning consultant for World Wrestling Entertainment, offers his best tips on maximizing your success on this fundamental lift.
1. PRACTICE STANDING OVERHEAD PRESSES
Even though you can’t handle as much weight, practicing standing versions of the overhead press can help you to get stronger on the seated versions while helping you to build functional strength. “It’s much harder than the seated version because there is nothing to brace against,” MacIntyre says. “Also, you are on your feet, which is always a good thing when developing strength and power to carry over into real-world situations. Remember that the bar should end up directly over your head, not shifted forward in front of it — that’s a common mistake.” MacIntyre adds that a good goal is to work your way up to pressing your own bodyweight overhead and that the push-press, during which you use your legs to generate a little momentum out of the bottom position, can help you handle more weight with strict form in the long run.
2. USE MULTIPLE ANGLES ON THE ADJUSTABLE BENCH
Your bench shouldn’t always be set to vertical for optimal results. “Don’t forget that an incline bench press also hits your shoulders, notably the anterior (i.e., front) delt,” MacIntyre says. “People either sit upright for overhead presses or use a 45-degree incline for benches but never try anything in between those two settings. Experiment with changing the angle for different stresses on the muscle and greater overall shoulder strength.”
3. STAY TRUE TO FORM
“When people try to move big weight in the seated barbell press, they tend to start arching backward more and more,” MacIntyre says. “While this does help you press more, it takes some of the stress off the shoulders and directs it to the pecs. Don’t turn your seated shoulder presses into incline bench presses.” Arching in this position also compromises your lower back — the last thing you want to hurt in your pursuit of bigger muscles.
4. REST MORE, GROW MORE
Because of how much they are used in other exercises, your shoulders are always at risk of becoming overtrained, which leaves them lagging in the muscle-building department and ripe for injury. “Every time you bench-press or do other exercises for the chest, you are hitting your anterior deltoids,” MacIntyre explains. “The shoulders get a lot of work and may not need as much direct attention as you think. If you’re currently doing chest with shoulders or training chest and shoulders very close in your split, try changing that up or alleviating the volume on shoulder day and you may see a boost in strength.”
5. THE POWER OF PARTIALS
The weakest link of the overhead press for any lifter is the midpoint to lockout. Here’s MacIntyre’s remedy: partials. “Partials are best performed in a power rack,” he says. “Set the safety racks so you only press the bar from the top of your head up — basically, so you are only working through the top half of the lift.” As you get stronger, try lowering the safety pins a bit farther to build more range-of-motion-specific strength.
RobMacIntyre is a Florida-based strength-and-conditioning expert specializing in power, performance and injury prevention. He can be reached at hardnockssouth.com.